Sweet Talk in Africa
Thanks, Jay, for your sweet article in EMQ (April 2004). You explain and illustrate your three points beautifully and also affirm Africans and their wisdom stored in proverbs.
Sweet Talk in Africa
Thanks, Jay, for your sweet article in EMQ (April 2004). You explain and illustrate your three points beautifully and also affirm Africans and their wisdom stored in proverbs. You have inspired me to use proverbs more often. “Something that is pushed has legs” (Kikuyu proverb).
Do you have any suggestions for people like me who just can’t seem to remember the right proverb at the right time? I was surprised you didn’t make this point in your article. When Africans are in a context that calls for a particular proverb they are able to recall it spontaneously.
— Del Chinchen, Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya
Jay Moon responds: Thank you for your kind response and thought-provoking question. Responses like this encourage me to continue using and researching African proverbs.
People like you have already taken the first large step just by reflecting and asking this type of question. It shows you are affirming the value of African oral literature, like proverbs, and seeing the potential in theological discourse. This has often been overlooked and undervalued in theological training.
It may help to think of oral literature more as an art form than a science subject. Using proverbs properly can be learned more like studying artwork as opposed to algebra in school. In short, it requires careful observation, questioning and much practice.
Carefully observe those who use proverbs well. I encourage people to record their observations for future reflection and reference. Especially note the context and occasion in which the proverbs are used. This forms the basis of the performance. Like the canvas upon which an artist paints, no proverb can be “painted” without the context. One African noted, “If you don’t sleep, then you don’t dream.” Also note how the audience participates in the performance since this is a group event and not a solo act.
Ask questions of the elders to learn more proverbs and their proper usage. They are the master painters and you are the apprentice looking for advice. Once they realized that I was sincere, many elders were delighted that I was interested in their proverbs and culture. In the process, it opened dialogue concerning the gospel, and I gained understanding of the culture and Scripture that I had overlooked before. Practice using proverbs that you have learned and a world of discovery will blow open.
Master artists spend years perfecting their work. Oral art is the same. I like the advice that I was given for language learning, “Learn a little; use a lot.” It is better to learn the artful use of a few proverbs than to learn many proverbs but not skillfully apply them. This takes time and patience, but you can do it. Maga, maga alaa yik waung jiuk (Slowly, slowly you catch the monkey’s tail).
Clarifying the N-Formula
I was intrigued by Marten Visser’s article on the “N-Formula” (April 2004). Very creative! However, I have a couple of comments/questions.
I did not understand the logic of the ratio comparing two countries, people groups, etc. Visser wrote, “The greater the ratio of non-evangelicals to evangelicals, the more missionaries the country needs.” Unless I am misunderstanding, this does not seem to take into account the relative populations of those two countries. In other words, if country A has a 10:1 ratio, non-evangelical to evangelical, and has a population of 100,000, it does not need ten times as many missionaries as country B, which has a 5:1 ratio and a population of 100 million. There needs to be an additional variable to allow for population size.
Secondly, as Visser suggests in the latter part of his article, the decision to mobilize pioneer missionaries in a particular country or people is much more nuanced than a simple formula. Other factors need proper weight, such as responsiveness of the people; specialized resources that may be available to a particular church or sending agency; connection, ethnic or otherwise, between the sending people and the target people.
John Sherwood, Vice-President, International Ministries, UFM International
Marten Visser responds: I want to thank John Sherwood for carefully reading my article. I believe the N-Formula is a helpful tool for getting a quick overview of where pioneer missionaries are urgently needed. Fifty international missions have asked me for the full table of countries, making me think others share this opinion. But I agree that it can’t be the only tool in deciding where to send pioneer missionaries. Sherwood mentions a few other important factors that merit consideration.
Sherwood’s other critique is a misunderstanding of what the N-Formula does. It expresses the need for pioneer missionaries in a number. But it does not give the number of pioneer missionaries needed.
For example, let’s compare countries X and Y. Country X has ten million inhabitants, two hundred missionaries and N is fifty. In country Y, there are one million inhabitants, twenty missionaries and N is also fifty.
The need for pioneer missionaries in both countries is equally urgent, for N is fifty in both. But country X will need two hundred more missionaries to bring N down to twenty-five, while country Y only needs twenty. With each new missionary, N decreases—and does so faster in countries with a smaller population. So, the relative populations are taken into account in the formula.